Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) has announced that it has cautiously resumed operations at its Prospecton Plant, in Durban, while adopting a similarly guarded approach to its Parts’ Warehouse facilities and dealerships across the country.
This follows an announcement by the South African government in May that it was relaxing some of its lockdown regulations – aimed at minimising the spread of COVID-19 – in order to allow for gradual and phased recovery of economic activity.
In line with the government’s Risk-Adjusted Strategy, TSAM is currently in the process of gradually resuming operational activity, whilst taking a careful and considered approach to ensure that there’s reduced risk of COVID-19 infections across its entire value chain.
According to President and CEO of TSAM Andrew Kirby: “This is the first time in our history that all the Toyota affiliate manufacturing plants have had to stop operations across the world at the same time, and we are therefore moving into uncharted territory as we also all begin the process of a phased restart of operations in SA. I am also very pleased to hear that our Toyota Dealers have all been praised by officials that have inspected their premises, and not one them have been asked to close.”
All dealerships affiliated to Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) up and running
TSAM also welcomes the amended regulations for lockdown Level 4, which now also allow for auto-retail activities – as announced by government and the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC). Under the new government directives, all dealerships can operate with 30% of their staff up to 23 May.
For phase two, 25 May to 06 June 2020, the DTIC says all dealerships will operate with up to 60% employment levels, in addition to other relaxed regulations. In phase three, 8 June 2020 until Alert Level 4 is lifted, all dealerships will operate with up to 100% staff on site; and customers will also be allowed on-site contact, but kept to a minimum, whilst remote vehicle sales would still be encouraged.
“When South Africa entered Lockdown Alert Level 4, our dealers immediately embraced the opportunity to once again open for business, albeit with necessary restrictions. Our Toyota, Hino and Lexus dealers have commenced with vehicle service, sales and repair in ways that prioritise customer health and safety by implementing the very highest standard of cleaning and hygiene measures in conjunction with appropriate social distancing,” says Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at TSAM, Leon Theron.
Prior to officially re-opening their doors, TSAM dealers had to initiate preparatory operations to provide their workforce and customers with an adequately safe working environment; this was all part of a multi-phase plan to get the wheels of business turning as quickly as possible – but without cutting corners. This meant that facilities had to be fumigated and thoroughly disinfected before they were set up for the ‘new normal’.
Other supplementary measures included cordoning off all customer refreshment stations, the removal of brochures and magazines on shelves and tables, as well as employee education about COVID-19 and the institution of cleaning and disinfection protocols. In addition, all COVID-19 educational paraphernalia for the benefit of customers – such as signage and social distancing markings – had to be set up.
Now customers will also have their hands sanitised upon entering dealerships while paying in hard cash will be discouraged in favour of EFTs, cheque/credit card Tap & Go as well as Apps such as Snapscan and Zapper (credit card machines to be regularly sanitised).
Theron says, “TSAM takes interest in the general welfare of its dealers and staff – and without them, there is no business. We would therefore like to thank them for all the behind-the-scenes work done before we could reopen our business. However, from a Toyota perspective, this isn’t about ticking the government regulations’ boxes, it’s about protecting human lives and ensuring that our customers and staff are as safe as they can be at our dealerships.”
Parts’ Operations open to supply service and repair activities at dealerships
The role of TSAM’s Parts’ Distribution Centre in Atlas Road, Johannesburg, cannot be understated as it is the lifeblood of the company’s aftersales business. “There are scores of customers who had the service intervals of their vehicles fall in the middle of the hard lockdown, and our parts distribution centre is now ready to supply stock to service centres across the country – thereby ensuring customer vehicles are fitted with Toyota/Hino/Lexus genuine parts,” says Theron.
As with most Alert Level 4 business regulations, the Atlas Warehouse is currently operating with only a 50% staff complement while some employees are encouraged to work from home. (There are two shifts running to keep up with demand.) Prior to re-opening, the 40 000m² the facility had to be fumigated and thoroughly disinfected before its workforce returned to work.
In order to mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19 en route to work or home, TSAM has arranged shuttle services for employees who rely on public transport for commuting. Staff are collected from their homes, with a designated crew leader on board to ensure that every passenger is screened for temperature, sanitised and is wearing a mask. The crew leader also ensures that anyone with a temperature reading above 37.5 degrees may not go to work, and that the shuttle may not exceed the 70% seating capacity and that all social distancing protocol is observed in the vehicle.
On arrival at work, the staff undergo stringent screening measures. With social distancing in place, employees are screened for temperature checks again and asked questions about their social movements as well as possible interactions with COVID-19 cases. It’s only employees who pass these checks that are allowed to work, while those whose results are out-of-range would be attended to by on-site medical personnel for further investigation. Should it be necessary, they could even take COVID-19 swab tests at the company’s ‘makeshift’ lab facility.
“It goes without saying that the wearing of masks – as uncomfortable as it is – has become compulsory in the workplace. We also want everyone to be knowledge-equipped and have therefore made a training session on COVID-19 etiquette compulsory to all staff at the Parts’ Warehouse,” says Theron.
Production has recommenced under measured conditions at the Prospecton Plant
According to TSAM’s Executive Vice President of Manufacturing and Support Nigel Ward, Toyota’s production facility resumed activity with limited and essential employees in each area of the plant in the first week of May – therefore adhering to the government-stipulated operational capacity of 50% under Alert Level 4.
“We have deliberately started slowly in order to protect our workforce as well as to afford ourselves the opportunity to fine-tune operations in these challenging times. We will continue in the same vein – assessing the situation in line with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition – and, when necessary, we will amend our approach commensurate to all factors at play, including lockdown regulations and the health of our employees,” says Ward.
TSAM says only workers with no underlying health issues were allowed back at the plant in May. The operations resumed under stringent measures, with a focus on creating a safe working environment that promotes social distancing, personal hygiene as well proactive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the plant.
Standard COVID-19 protocol means that all employees entering and exiting the plant premises are being screened for temperature checks, and that they observe the clear demarcations that have been put on the floor to help maintain the safety distance of 1.5 metres between each person. In addition, canteen tables have been redesigned with partitioning between staff while the use of showers has been discontinued.
Under the current climate, production capacity at Prospecton Plant is not at full capacity but Kirby is positive that these challenges present the industry with an opportunity to do things differently. As of the third week of May, production was at 40% of pre-lockdown volumes (with one shift) and was expected to reach 75% of pre-lockdown volumes in the last week of May.
“History has shown us that when a global or even national crisis impacts on a country, there is always a quantum or step-change in the market and in the business environment… What we do know is that business will never be the same again. Manufacturing will change, remote working will change, digitisation will accelerate and customers’ buying patterns will never be the same again. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to change the way we do business and make the step-changes that are needed,” concludes Kirby.